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Three things to know about NY education changes

Solvejg Wastvedt
WSKG News (file photo)

It’s a time of educational upheaval in New York. Changes are piling up fast -- the state Board of Regents delayed state tests’ impact on teacher evaluations, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s task force called for nearly two dozen changes to learning standards. In the midst of it all, here are three things you need to know.

One: Remember what’s not changing – the bulk of the Common Core standards themselves. The standards are expectations for students, what we say students should be able to do when they finish a grade. The Common Core raised the bar, and the governor’s task force wants that in any revised standards.

Cornell University professor John Sipple agrees and says he doesn’t think the Common Core will totally disappear.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been put into those Common Core standards, and it would be reinventing the wheel to go back and try to create our own,” he says. “I think [revised standards] will be based in large part on the Common Core with a new label.”

Changes could include altered standards in lower grades, which many say are too difficult, and more flexibility for students with disabilities and English language learners.

“I like them,” Horseheads math teacher Hether Gillette says of the 8th grade standards. “I thought that they really did pare down the amount of material that we had to cover for the year. We were able to go deeper into the concepts and touch on more critical thinking.”

However, Gillette also leads the Horseheads teachers’ union, and she’s a vocal critic of how the state tests those standards and says they should be taught, which brings us to the second thing.

Two: Teachers are still skeptical. Many don’t see the Regents’ move on evaluations as a silver bullet. It doesn’t remove all test scores from evaluations – just state, Common Core tests. For the next four years, teacher evaluations will continue to depend on locally-created tests. The state has yet to decide exactly how this will work, and Corning teachers’ union president Leslie Varga says past experience tells her to watch for the details.

“I’m a skeptic about Gov. Cuomo’s intentions and his motives,” she says with a sigh. Varga adds that teachers are tired, with round after round of reforms coming down from the state.

Three: The tiredness some teachers feel might increase, because more changes are coming. Regent James Tallon says he wants to shorten state tests further, and the board is still mulling possible tweaks under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. New York says it will let teachers help write new tests and alter standards, but so far that process is up in the air, too.

Solvejg Wastvedt grew up in western Pennsylvania and graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Over the summer, she served in Los Angeles as an intern on NPR's National Desk. Plus, before coming to Upstate New York, Solvejg worked at the Minneapolis community radio station KFAI. When she isn't reporting the news, Solvejg enjoys running and exploring hiking trails.